tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 25, 2010 2:00pm-2:30pm PST
tavis: good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with former c.i.a. officer valerie plame wilson and her husband, ambassador joseph wilson. when valerie plame was outed as a u.s. spy, it set off an international controversy that reached high into the bush white house in 2007. valerie plame published a bestseller about the ordeal called "fair game." on november 5 the movie by the same name opens in theaters across the country. we're glad you've joined us. the conversation with former c.i.a. agent valerie plame wilson and ambassador joe wilson coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference. >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports
tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and improve obstacles to empowerment one nation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: when jonas robert novak exposed valerie plame's cover as a c.i.a. operative back in 2003, it set off a series of events that ultimately led to the indictment of then vice president dick cheney's chief of staff, scooter libby. in 2007 the book about this remarkable story became a number one "new york times" bestseller called "fair game." that book along with joe
wilson's book served then as the basis for the new film, starring sean penn and naomi watts. here now a preview of the film "fair game". >> the vice president has received a report concerning the purchase of material to build nuclear weapons. >> we need to get in close. >> they turned to her husband for answers. >> it is my opinion that it could not have happened. >> we have teams in the field. they're all saying the same thing. >> but when the truth was made public -- >> what do you think the white house wants to hear, there was no nuclear program? >> they changed their story. >> they made her pay the price. >> valerie, your name is in the paper. you're a c.i.a. agent. >> i never worked for the c.i.a., but his wife -- >> she's an agency operative. >> you kill people. >> i can't tell you anything. tavis: that's the best you two could do, sean penn, naomi watts? >> we should be so lucky. tavis: you couldn't do any better than that. how surreal does it feel?
that's my word, not yours. to see this on the big screen? >> well, surreal is my word as well. it is -- we never thought that this would happen. if none of this had, if my c.i.a. aid tee had not been betrayed, we would be living and working overseas. i would be working on counterproliferation issues and making my g.s. salary, so this is a very long, strange trip. >> for you, ambassador? >> oh, absolutely. it's as weird as it could possibly be. the thing i keep reminding myself is there are two salient fact. one, i challenge the government on the use of its intelligence and two days later the press acetaminophen of the white house said that, indeed, they should never have used that information in the state of the union address. everything else isanufactured by them as part of a character assassination and smear campaign. and diss information campaign. so the fact that there are two books and a movie, it's all thanks to the war that they tried to wage against valerie
and myself. tavis: you talked about a smear campaign. i believe it was our friends, maureen dowd, who recently suggested that what's about to start happening now with the possibility of republicans taking on more power in washington, trying to be generous about that, is that the resliming -- that's maureen's word -- the resliming the ambassador wilson and valerie plame wilson is about to start all over again. when you read that piece or considered that notion, you think what? >> if i was advising them, it would be just let it go. if you want to go round two, well, we'll go round two and we'll all see it in the sequel. otherwise, just let it go as they should have let it go the first time around. they took a three-day story and turned it into a six-year nightmare for themselves. >> this is one of those stories that it started in 2003, but it actually unfolded over a series -- several years. and i think, you know, it waxed
and waned in the media. there was a lot of chaff thrown in there that people got confused. it's not a difficult story to follow what really happened. and i think now the truth has come out. we've had the trial of mr. scooter libby and all of the other things that have subsequently come out to show that that really was a full-on diss information campaign. tavis: ambassador, speaking of valerie's point now, you have some strong words specifically about former vice president dick cheney and scooter libby to our friend wolf "blitz" recently. i know you've had time to rethink it. you stand by that, i take it. >> i was asked about scooter libby and i said stator. i was asked about dick cheney, i said traitor. i would amend my comments about dick cheney for traitor and coward, for letting scooter libby take the fall. tavis: why did all this happen?
>> well, i think there were a number of reasons. first of all, out's very clear they wanted to change the -- it's very clear they wanted to change the subject fra their 15 words and the justification to take this country into words and they were successful for many years. but the fact remains that everybody now understands. we went to war based on intelligence. it was manufactured and misused. and 4,000 americans are dead. 30,000 are wounded. many of them have come home to be wards of their communities and their families for the rest of their lives. i was just in bag dad three weeks ago and there over one million iraqis displaced and others in neighboring countries and lord only knows how many iraqis have been killed as a consequence of this ill-advised foreign policy decision. tavis: how do you look back on these years now and not be bitter? and if you were bitter, how did you get through that phase? >> i'm not. first, it's a really wasted emotion in most cases, and
watching the movie now, the scenes where the marriage is fraying at the seams and looking at the fates of the iraqi scientists, very painful to see that. but we have moved out of washington. we now make our home in new mexico. we have rebuilt our personal lives, our professional lives, and looking back, you know, seeing the movie now and to your question of why, i think it's very much about the timeless question of power and the abuse of power and how do you check it. it obviously happened within the context of the bush administration. but it could have easily been any other administration, democratic or republican. it is about the abuse of power and what do you do tavis: since you went there, i wanted to raise it anyway. one of the things that comes through in the film and i wasn't sure what the film was going to be, given the fact that there are two books here that we pulled the screenplay from, which we'll talk more with in a
second. but the marriage was on the rocks. fair to say? >> well, certainly when i read her book i realized it was. >> he didn't know how bad it was. >> football on tv and beer in the refrigerator. >> he's joking about that part. [laughter] no, it was all these external forces outside of our control were pushing in on the personal relationship, which is an important part of that movie. and i found it -- you know, really in an instant everything, my career, my family security and the assets with whom i had worked with for years, they're all in depdy. and at the same time, this diss information campaign is going on, joe is being called a liar, a traitor, you'll being accused of nepotism, a glorified secretary. the stresses that that places on an individual and, of course, a
marriage were tremendous. there were some dark days. tavis: you have kids. >> we do. tavis: how do you navigate through this as adults, much less adults who have kids they have to protect in the process? >> well, i think the dinner conversation at our house is probably a lot different from a lot of other houses as a consequence of what we've been through. i love it. every year we get an email from one of our kids' teachers who said we did civics. i spoke for five minutes and your son or daughter jumped in and carried the conversation for the next 45 minutes, telling us what washington, d.c. is really all about. [laughter] >> you know, our kids were really small when this happened. they're 10 now, twins. and the worst, when they were little, that's the wonderful thing about having kids. they really don't care if you had a bad day. they really just want your love, your affection, your attention, and it does help put it into perspective.
tavis: back to the film. this is inside hollywood stuff. so we'll get your thoughts on that in a second. so you take these two books, inside "babel." how do two books become a screenplay? >> well, there were two good british screenwriters, and they actually came over to washington and went to the trial, the scooter libby trial every day. doug limon, the director, came in and said he thought he had a different angle on it. they spent a year reporting, going out and finding all the facts. a lot of what you see in there doesn't come from us or come from either of our books, it comes from their independent reporting. i think they crafted a tale that essentially clears up a lot of confusion and tells the story as it is. and it's the story of our time, basically. tavis: when you say it clears up a lot of confusion, unpack that for me. what specifically are we confused about that this movie, as hollywood can do well when it does its job, causes us to be enlightened about? >> well, first of all, as
valerie said issue, this issue that she was a glorified secretary and responsible for my going, and this was nepotism are the two big ones. but there are any number of things that the administration put forth about us over the years that i think is unpacked, actually, during the course of the movie. >> one of them thank i wasn't really covert. and my response to that is, hey, don't take my word for it. then d.c.i., head of the c.i.a., general michael haden, in testimony given to congress, certified, if you will, that i was covert at the time of the leak. so it was all part of that, well, she wasn't covert, it didn't really matter. let's just move on, everyone. tavis: how much permanent danger is one placed in -- you in this case -- how much personal danger is valerie placed in when your undercover status is blown? >> i think honestly my largest
concern was there's a lot of unbalanced people out there, and all of a sudden i'm the c.i.a. poster girl and our home in washington, the front door was about 20 feet from the street. and i went to the agency at a certain point and asked for security on a residence. when you're a parent, that's your paramount concern for your children. and there were some very credible and frightening threats. and the agency declined to provide any security, and it was -- it felt like a betrayal all over again. it was really painful. tavis: what's the stated or unstated reason for denying -- they know your cover's been blown. it's all in the newspaper. they denied you that protection for what reason? >> i can only speculate, but the reason given to me was, well, we really don't think that those threats are that serious, which completely was countermanded by the actual facts. but it was a mistake on their part.
>> actually, the washington, d.c. metropolitan police were very good and they were very responsive. as have been the santa fe police. we have set up a system whereby we have a prompt response in the event that something were to happen. tavis: how do you live your life when -- under that kind of threat? i was going to say how do you live your life in fear? i'm not saying you live your life in fear, but how do you advance under that kind of threat potentially? >> my view has always been that if you're going to be in this sort of a fight, you can be so invisible that you're the classic leaker, that nobody knows who you are, or you can be so visible that everybody knows who you are and your foes have to take into consideration what the consequences would be if something were to happen to you. so i think our biggest ally threw all of this was when the justice department opened their investigation, that provided us with visibility that made it difficult for our political enemies to try and do something
against us, lest that investigation blow back on them. where you don't want to be is where david kelly was, the scientist, where they sex sexed up a dossier and later committed suicide. all his foes knew who he was and none of his friends did. last night we did the screening of the movie here in los angeles. we have benefited from a legion of supporters who have followed this very carefully and have been friends to us and supporters and voices that have been raised and would be raised if something were to happen to us. tavis: these are two very different things, i can see, valerie. but i'm curious as to your take on whether or not all leaks are bad leaks. and i'm talking now about the wikileaks. there's a lot of stuff in there that obviously people didn't want out, but there's a lot of stuff that we've been exposed to that perhaps we need to know. so are all leaks bad? >> regarding wikileaks, i have profound ambivalent feelings about it. i am a firm believer in a strong, intelligent service.
there's a need for classified information. however, if it crosses a line into where you're simply classifying information because it's embarrassing, it's showing malfeasance or incompetence, when obviously transparency is called for. wikileaks, i don't know anyone who -- the founder of that or the people involved in the leadership, i am not sure that they have thought through the moral implications of what they've done. they've exposed sources and methods in afghanistan. >> you're doing to those people exactly what cheney, libby, rove and armitage did to valerie. if, on the other hands, you're leaking information that exposes somebody who basically classified the information to avoid potential embarrassment, then there's a problem with transparency and governor nance. those sorts of things shouldn't be classified in the first place. tavis: i want to go back to something you said earlier. it's been bugging me for the
last 10 minutes. i didn't know if i wanted to go back and dig more or not, and now i decided i do. i think there's something here. when you added to your notion of dick cheney being a traitor and you said he's a traitor and a coward, it raises this question for me of why it is in washington that the folk at the top end of the hierarchy never seem to take the fall. it's everybody else around them. richard nixon, a ray example, of course. but -- a rare example, of course. when you end up being harmed by people that high up the food chain and somebody a little lower on the food chain ends up paying the price for the guys higher up the food chain, you think what about that? >> well, we filed a civil suit against cheney, rove, libby and armitage and a number of john does specifically for that reason. we wanted to accomplish three things. we wanted to hold those people accountable for their actions. two, we wanted the american people to understand all the facts. and three, we wanted it to be clearly established as a precedent that public officials could not use positions of
public trust to engage in private political vendettas. that lawsuit went all the way up to the supreme court and the supreme court declined to hear it. therefore, the precedent is now firmly established that in fact you can sit in a position of public trust and use that position from which to launch private political vendettas. and i think that's a shame. on the other hand, i would love to be the director of the internal revenue service. >> get a hold of some names there. tavis: i hear you. to your point now, ambassador, is it your sense, then, that that precedent notwithstanding, that the kind of stuff that happened to the two of you, you think that we've learned our lesson about this now, or are you concerned the exact opposite is going to happen and we're going to see more valerie plames and joe wilsons? >> this is a timeless lesson that repeats itself time and time again. the founding fathers grapple with the question of power and abuse of power, hence the separation of power to hold
everybody in connect and the first keament giving the citizens not just the right but the responsibility to petition to hold their government to account. so i think it's something that repeats itself. we just happen to have been on -- in this particular fight to hold back the abuse of power or at least to correct the abuse of power that took place. >> and i hope what happened to me is an anomaly, that it never happens again. i do know that my former colleagues at the c.i.a. -- everyone is very concerned about how the creeping politicization of the intelligence apparatus where you want to believe as ate zens, that the intelligence that lands on the president's desk is free of partisan, taints, free of bias, it's just the facts. and yet, we saw that really wasn't the case in what happened with iraq. and it's really the whole intelligence community, i think, is struggling under the burden not only of the political yolk
but just how bureaucratic and ineffective it is right now. tavis: you suggested, valerie, earlier in this conversation that had this not happened to you you'd still be doing the work you were doing, specifically on nuclear proliferation. i'm thinking now that in just a matter of days the g-20 will have their meeting in november. i don't know what's on the agenda. but give me your top line on the worldwide issue of nuclear proliferation. >> i think we have a moment in time right now. we have president obama, who signed a new start treaty with president medvedev in april. the senate needs to ratify this. that we can actually move toward ultimately the total elimination of nuclear weapons. i think what happened, the cold war ended. everyone sort of had a big sigh of relief and swept it under the rug and moved on. the international community has been absent in continuing to
work toward the reduction of nuclear arsenals. what has changed profoundly from under that paradigm of mutually assured destruction -- an acronym i've always enjoyed under the time of the cold war, you now have the emerge enter threat of terrorism. so you have this nexus of terrorism and all the material available throughout the world. that is why it is absolutely critical that -- and i believe. i have evolved in my thinking. when i was working at the c.i.a. i was working on these issues. and i think a lot of what i did really was simply delaying the inevitable. what i'm working on now, i'm very much an advocate for ultimately eliminating all nuclear weapons. tavis: you think the inevitable is what? >> that if we don't, that we will see a nuclear device exploded in a city anywhere in the world. tavis: does iran scare you? >> yes. but i would say actually a state like pakistan, which is an narcy
sort of bubbling every day -- anarchy, sort of bubbling every day. it's a command and control structure over its nuclear arsenal is l questionable. so that is -- people who think about these things, that's really the country that probably keeps them up at night. tavis: let me shift gears. i want to go back to the movie here right quick. there's this running narrative, story line, for decades and decades about the love relationship or the similarities between washington and hollywood. so what can you tell me? i'll go to you first, ambassador wilson. what's your take now, having experienced both washington and hollywood? is that -- tell me about that relationship. >> well, what i can say about it is i'm glad to live in santa fe. [laughter] we're blessed to have a lot of friends in both places. i grew up in southern california and so i feel right at home here, and i feel right at home
in washington. at the same time, it's very clear that each one wants to control a narrative each in his own way. both the city of washington and both the city of hollywood. the nice thing about the movie is it tells a story in a way that other media cannot or will not do. so, for example, i think one of the themes of the movie is that the press simply did not do their job. they got distracted by the white house deliberately. they were distracted from the justification of going to war, as it says in the movie, who was this person's wife. hollywood sort of clarifies that. tavis: hollywood, washington. >> crazy, both places. i've lived many, many places in my life and i have to say santa fe is the first place that feels like home, really. we have a friend of ours who's in the film business, and when he saw "fair game," he said it is a great cross between high noon meets all the president's men.
and there is that straight line of the political context in which both of these movies were made and the message is trying to sends, which is abuse of power. tavis: did i read somewhere you're working on -- is it a spy novel? >> yes, surprise. tavis: what can you tell me about the secret novel? >> i would say in general, hollywood tends to portray and popular culture tends to portray female operations officers, very highly sexualized, lots of physicality. and i wanted to -- i still wanted -- i want it to be a thriller and exciting, but also more realistic, where you're smart. that's actually your best weapon. so you'll working on that. we're raising our twins. i'm doing advocacy for the nuclear nonpro live rage and working at the santa fe
institute. tavis: and you, ambassador? >> i'm chairman of a power construction company named symbion. we've done a number of projects in iraq. we drew transmission lines during the height of the violence there and we just moved back into africa, where a lot of us who are in the company have lived and worked for many years and we're doing a lot of work now in tanzania. tavis: here's a quick exit question. for most people in this town the deciding factor about whether or not the project wag worth it is how much box office it makes. so what's the measuring stick for you? >> i think for me, obviously i would love to see every -- i would love to have every american see it. but i would love for every american to take away from it a sense that if joe wilson can do that, anybody can do it and get out there and start acting like citizens and start holding a government to account. i suspect the residents of bell, california, had they been a little bit more willing to hold
their city administrators to account, you might not have the scandal that we've just seen play through and play out. tavis: last word for you? >> i have no control over people's taste, and there's -- as we know, there's no accounting for taste when they go see a movie. what i do know, this one is really go and we're so proud to be associated with it. troip it's a good one. it's called "fair game." their lives on the big screen. ambassador wilson, good to have you here. valerie, good to see you as well. congratulations to both of you. >> thanks. tavis: that's our show for tonight. thanks for tuning in. until tomorrow, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, paul reiser. that's next time. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james.
>> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> -- you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis and working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to yr pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--